This weekend I was at a retreat in the mountains for incoming minority freshmen to one of Pittsburgh’s universities. On the first night, the three staff persons and nine facilitators (all of us ethnic minorities) were enjoying some libations and youtube foolishness (especially this *smh*). Most of us know each other pretty well and have done this retreat before, so with the addition of EtOH, many outta order things were said and laughed at. At one point, I was discussing my hair regimen for the weekend with two Black women who have curly hair similar to mine and planned on wearing it naturally curly also. Now, there were six of us ladies, all with naturally curly hair (though three were wearing their hair straight). The only ones in the room with kinky hair were two Black men. So as I’m talking hair styling with the gals and the work that goes into it, one of the brothas with kinky hair says to us, “Why are you worried about your hair? All of you have good hair.” *there was a long pause for silence and honing of extreme side eyes* Then we all seemed to say in unison, “What do you mean GOOD hair?” The light-hearted, ignant banter that had filled the air that evening turned into hours of arguing about what “good hair” means and why it was such a charged statement.
Now, admittedly, I’m very sensitive about hair and the use of “good” vs “bad” hair when describing Black women’s hair. All my life I’ve heard people say I had “good hair” simply because it was curly and when blown dry was straight and flowy, and didn’t need to be permed. Because of this, I was often revered by friends who were envious of my hair and thought I had an advantage over girls with kinkier hair. Especially when it rained. “Girl, you don’t have to run from the rain, you get that wet and wavy look.” Even though others had this view of my hair, I didn’t like to be placed in a different category from other girls because it. When my friends with kinky hair didn’t have a perm or needed their perm to be touched up, they were often made fun of, or teased each other because of their “naps” and it upset me. I didn’t understand this obsession with hair and why nappy hair had to be “bad” hair. It was just hair. Who cares if it’s straight, wavy, curly, or napped out? You are not your hair, dammit!***
So the minute I heard “good hair” in reference women with curly (not kinky) hair, I went off. And so did the others. And just because we all had hair that’s often accused of being “good” didn’t mean we took having “good” hair as a compliment. Our offense to “good hair” was met with much resistance to a couple of brothas in the room, including the one who made the original statement (we’ll call him DC). DC didn’t get why using “good hair” was offensive when he simply meant it “looked nice” and not because it was better than other hair textures/types. From his p.o.v., saying something was good didn’t necessarily mean the opposite of bad (o_O). We–with the help of two non-Black men who have black SOs–tried to explain the history behind the use of “good” and “bad” hair in the Black community and why it was such a touchy and painful subject for many Black women. Briefly, “good” historically described hair that was more European than African (i.e. looser curls, not nappy), whereas “bad” described nappy hair (unmistakably African) or hair that had to be chemically altered in order to be closer to “good” hair. DC claimed he hadn’t realized saying “good hair” could result in such a charged discussion, and made the statement, “What does black women’s hair have to do with me? I just made a statement.” And this is where I lost it.
I think it’s a damn shame and irresponsible for Black men to dismiss Black women’s beauty issues–hair especially–thinking it has nothing to do with them. Black women’s struggle with image have almost everything to do with Black men since many Black men contribute to certain stereotypes and attitudes that are perpetuated about Black women. Black men should make it a point to at least acknowledge the painful history of our view of beauty. This is one of the reasons why I applaud Chris Rock for making his documentary, Good Hair, because he made it his business to understand why the topic of hair is so important and often controversial in the Black community. Afterall, he has a Black wife and Black daughters. Therefore, their hair issues affect and may be affected by him as a Black man. And for any Black man who is taking care of his family is concerned, he will ultimately play a major role in his children’s perception of hair.
As I see it, there is no reason in 2010 for an educated, progressive brotha/sista to still use “good hair” to reference hair texture that isn’t nappy or kinky. DO BETTER!! So if nothing else was learned from our loud, late night, inebriated, heated argument about hair, I think DC knows to be cautious about saying “good hair” in front of Black women, especially when describing curly hair–even if what he meant was “nice” hair, and not the opposite of nappy, which he also thinks can be “nice”–or a riot might ensue. [I won’t even go into the statement that was made about some men preferring women with curly/wavy hair–there’s not enough time or space today.] And hopefully, he appreciates the history embedded in the “good” vs “bad” hair debate. I think any men who interact with Black women should take more time to be aware of our struggles with image and beauty and educate other brothas and sistas who might have it twisted. Why continue to perpetuate hurtful and ignorant attitudes? Men and women have to work together to promote the diversity and richness of our Blackness and the beauty in all the different shades, shapes, styles, and textures.
What do yall think? Have you had any gender split arguments about Black hair? Do you think Black men are really naive to women’s issues with hair? Do you think Black men have a responsibility to care about Black women’s hair issues and other beauty images?
Rockin my natural MixedChicks™ hair,
***more on this idea of not being your hair Wednesday, so stay tuned 🙂